augusta free press news

It’s all in a (brand) name

The Top Story by Chris Graham

What do you think of when you think of the Shenandoah Valley? Or Staunton?
Stop right there. It took you too long.
When you think of Nike, you think “swoosh.” Instantly.
When you think of Coca-Cola, you see in a flash the red can and script lettering in your mind’s eye.
That’s how brands work – and that’s what the new executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association wants to create for the Valley, a brand identity that comes immediately to mind when you hear the words “Shenandoah Valley,” and also what officials in the city of Staunton want to create for their city, a brand that similarly identifies Staunton.

“We want to get the freshest, most all-encompassing brand that we can,” said Brian Ososky, the executive director of the SVTA, which is based in New Market and represents tourism offices from up and down the Valley.

“Obviously if there are so many things in the Valley, attractions, history, great dining, great golf, nice resort hotels, nice B&Bs, camping – how do you incorporate all of that into one catchphrase or one piece of art? It’s going to be a challenge, but hopefully one that is not impossible. And I’m looking forward to getting this process started,” Ososky told The Augusta Free Press.

The Valleywide project is set to get going with a planning meeting on Sept. 18 – with Ososky enlisting the aid of representatives of tourism offices spanning the western part of the state.

The effort in Staunton is already well under way – the city office of economic development hopes to have a proposed logo and perhaps tagline ready for public review in October.

“We have several different organizations that have their own brands, but we’ve never actually approached it in a more collective sense. That’s what we’re really trying to do with this project,” Staunton economic-development specialist Amanda Huffman said last week in an interview with “The Augusta Free Press Show.”

The city is working with the South Carolina-based Arnett Muldrow and Associates on the branding project – which is enlisting the aid of representatives of a wide variety of Stauntonians to provide input into what it is that makes Staunton Staunton.

“It actually helps to have someone come in from the outside and look at the situation and objectively review everything about the situation. So we’ve brought in a consultant who can look more objectively at the situation and really analyze Staunton with fresh eyes,” Huffman said.

As Ososky begins his work on the Shenandoah Valley branding, he is also involved in the goings-on in Staunton – Ososky is a member of the Staunton Tourism Advisory Board, one of several organizations that is doing its part to contribute input into the local branding process.

“This is something that they’ve needed for a long time,” Ososky said. “Staunton has grown over the last several years into being a really unique destination. And from my perspective of serving on the Tourism Advisory Board, we get tired of hearing that Staunton is the best-kept secret. So all of those marketing initiatives and all of the storytelling that needs to be done, it all starts with that brand and that brand identity.

“The brand established in Staunton – based on the history and the attractions and the restaurants – is going to be different than the brand in Harrisonburg and Winchester,” Ososky said. “There’s different history, there’s ties to the Civil War and the architecture – everything from A to Z. So I’m all for it. I think it’s something that’s been a long time coming for Staunton – and I’m really glad to see that they’re moving forward with that process.”

Over the Blue Ridge, Charlottesville and Albemarle recently underwent an 18-month, $65,000 project to rebrand the Jefferson Area that wrapped up in December – and at the end of the process had come up with a logo that is supposed to evoke the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, Jefferson’s Monticello and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and a tagline that is less wieldy than the Charlottesville-Albemarle name given to so many things in the region.

“When we went through it, we didn’t know what it would be – whether it would be something completely different,” said Mark Shore, the executive director of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“But as we went through the process, what we realized was it was simply a reinvigoration of the existing brand. Because we don’t create the brand. The brand already exists. It’s just defining it. And so what we really thought we did was instead of launching a new brand, it was reinvigorating an existing brand. You know, Tide is still Tide – the box may change a little bit, but it’s still Tide. That’s what we saw we were doing – reinvigorating an existing brand,” Shore told the AFP.

The Charlottesville-Albemarle effort was expansive in its approach to examining the region’s brand identity.

“”The branding process helps you get your hands around exactly what is you personality, what are your values, what are the assets that are recognized, and what are the emotional benefits of the brand itself,” Shore said.

“Once you have that in place, that allows you to move forward on things like colors and fonts and logos and taglines. But all of that comes about after you realize and analyze what is your brand in terms of those four things – your personality, your values, your tangible assets and your emotional benefits,” Shore said.

Shore would advise Huffman in Staunton and Ososky in New Market to be ready to hear from the critics almost as soon as people get a gander at what the project comes up with.

“You’ll have a few people in the community who will say, You spent 40 grand, or whatever the amount is, on a tagline? No. It’s a minimum amount that you spend on a tagline. The investment really is in the research – if you do the branding process correctly. It’s engaging both the community and the visitor – and really making sure that you’re defining what the existing brand is,” Shore said.

Huffman said Staunton officials have already gotten that message.

“It’s important to understand – we’re not trying to give Staunton a theme or pigeonhole Staunton, because Staunton’s a complex place, Staunton’s a diverse place, and that’s the beauty of Staunton, that’s what we all love about Staunton. We’re not trying to say, Staunton is only this. It’s basically just a way to kind of symbolize Staunton, so that when you see it, you think, Oh, that’s Staunton,” Huffman said.

Ososky is on the same page there as well.

“I think you need to keep things fresh, tell the story, give people a clue of what to expect out of your destination. So we will use the resources to the best of our ability and take everyone’s comments and input as to what they see and feel the Shenandoah Valley should be and put it in a blender and then present that to different groups to come up with some brand identities,” Ososky said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.


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